Skewed Perspective

I gather that it is not abnormal to have an argument with a six year-old child. I’ll save you the details leading up to the debate I had with my young daughter last night and just say that we had an encounter I would like to soon forget (but, no doubt, my writing this post will cause it to linger in my memory!). 

Realizing (a bit late) the degree to which my daughter was upset, I began to try and make amends. Her words in a tearful reply were piercing, ‘Papa, we always fight and we never have fun.’ 

I couldn’t understand such a perspective. It couldn’t be further from reality. I checked in with my wife, who was downstairs, and she confirmed how rare it was for my daughter and I to not be having a fun time with things. She rarely cries in my presence and 99% of the time we thoroughly enjoy spending time together.

My wife consoled me by explaining that 6-year-olds are more acutely ‘in the moment’ than adults. If a 6-year-old is sad, distressed, or angry, they have trouble fitting it into the context of a long-standing relationship that is fun and healthy. For them, the present argument is a perpetual one; a moment without fun is an extended season without fun.

Such a perspective rattled me. It breaks my heart to hear my daughter articulate that we ‘always fight’ and ‘never have fun’. And even though that’s verifiably not true, her feelings were nonetheless real. Her perception was not put on.

Reeling from this exchange, I began to think about my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I began to sense that I probably do the same thing with Him. For all of my life, He has poured out grace upon grace and mercy upon mercy, but in the day of trial we often think God is picking on us. We begin to wonder about His fairness and why He ‘always’ seems to make us walk the difficult path.

I began to realize how acutely ‘in the moment’ I tend to be in my relationship with God. 

I’m not alone in this. My mind went to Job, who endured far more hardship than I likely ever will (see Job 1:13-19). I recall how Job’s perception of reality became skewed amid suffering. Here is a sample of his perspective:

My complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find Him…I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments (Job 23:2-4).

Job felt justified in his complaints. He was sure that God owed him an explanation. In the midst of his pain, Job was incapable of placing his present suffering in the context of how God had dealt with him all the days of his life. Simply put, Job’s perspective was skewed.

Eventually, God responds to Job in a way that continues to correct my own limited and skewed perspective:

Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?…Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?…(Where were you) when I said (to the sea), ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? Have you ever commanded the morning, or shown dawn its place? (Job 38:2, 4, 11, 12).   

I can’t be too hard on my daughter for harbouring a skewed perspective, because I am pretty sure that I harbour the same when it comes to my understanding of God’s providence. With my limited vantage point, I question what I see. I wonder, ‘Why is God allowing this?’ So much is beyond my comprehension. Job eventually got this. I hope I can always bear this in mind. My perspective is skewed because it is small. My perspective is skewed because it is limited to time and space.

When I see something, or experience something, that I cannot comprehend, I must resolve to trust God. I am being looked after by the One who ‘commanded the morning’!  I am being cared for by One who promises that all things are being carefully arranged for my ultimate good (see Romans 8:28).

Lord, forgive me for my limited, skewed, perspective. 

You Can’t Handle It All

Maybe it’s a city thing, but I doubt it. Many of the people (most of the people?) I regularly engage are over programmed and over committed. We’ve pushed ourselves so hard, and now we’re paying for it. With our physical health, our emotional health, and our relationships, we are being negatively impacted by how busy we are.

This morning at The Well, I invited those gathered to self-diagnose how balanced their life was. After offering some symptoms indicating imbalance, I invited them to grade themselves on a spectrum between 1 (burnout) and 10 (total balance).

I theorized that we tend to run close to the line on this. Many of us rank between a 4 and a 6. But, I also pointed out that a seasonal variable was about to be introduced to the equation: Christmas.

Christmas places extra demands upon our time and energy as we shop for presents, attend more social gatherings, prepare more elaborate meals, and travel to visit family. If we are struggling to keep pace as it is, the demands of Christmas will threaten to undo us.

Thankfully, the Bible offers much helpful guidance in this regard.  In some instances it is prudent to STOP doing things in order to give priority to the best things (see Luke 10:38-42). In other instances (where ceasing is not an option), it is wise to SHARE our burdens and our responsibilities with others (see Exodus 18:17, 18). In all instances, we ought to attempt to STICK with Jesus (see John 15:4, 5).

If you are looking to remedy and reverse the trend of being “too busy”, I commend to you the following message below. I do not consider myself to be someone who can handle it all. I can’t. But I am convinced that, for my life to have proper balance, I must always seek to follow the One who can handle it all. I’m sticking with Him.

What’s your plan? How will you preserve balance as Christmas approaches? 

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You Can’t Please Everyone

It’s seldom easy to get everybody to agree on the truth of a given statement. And yet, it seems the notion, ‘You Can’t Please Everyone’ is universally held.

We all get that disappointing others is inevitable, but most of us still bend over backwards in our attempts to please those around us. With the Christmas season approaching, the pressure to satisfy those closest to us will be acute. 

This past Sunday at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I sought to help us recognize our people-pleasing tendencies and to appropriately apply those tendencies.

Are you a people-pleaser? I don’t think it is a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ thing. We are people-pleasers to a degree.

Here are some people pleasing characteristics:

  • 1) You are governed by fear of disappointing others
  • 2) You find it difficult to express what you want / prefer
  • 3) You find it difficult to say ‘no’, and tend to over commit

On a people-pleasing scale of 1 (I don’t give a rip) to 10 (I will try to cater to your every whim, all of the time), where are you? 

Did you know that the Bible has much to say on this subject? You likely won’t be surprised to hear that prioritizing the needs of others is a good thing. One of the chief commandments is “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). For some of us, that commandment challenges us to love beyond ourselves more than what we’re naturally inclined to. For others, that commandment appropriately restrains us and keeps us from loving our neighbour to our own detriment.

There is another important principle outlined for us in Scripture on this subject. Whether we score low on the people-pleasing scale, or whether we are prone to please everyone, all of the time, this principle applies to every follower of Jesus: Pleasing God must be our first priority.

The apostle Paul, who cared deeply and sacrificially for many Christian communities, was careful to explain that God, and not the people, was his chief concern (see Galatians 1:10 and 1Thessalonians 2:4).

For me, this principle is a massive source of relief. When I pursue this principle I find that my people-pleasing tendencies find their proper place, and my life finds a meaningful balance.

Conversely, when I measure myself by the delight or displeasure of others, I find myself trapped on an emotional rollar coaster ride. If you score high in people-pleasing, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re doing well so long as those around you are doing well. Disappointing another crushes you.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Nor do we have to altogether ignore the needs of those we regularly engage.

I encourage you to have a listen below. We can’t please everyone. But we can please the One who can return our life to its proper balance. I want that. How about you?  

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What Does God Think About You?

We often read survey results which indicate what we think about God. There is no shortage of polls telling us, ‘How many people believe in God’, ‘How many people regard Jesus to be God’, and so on. It seems to me, however, that what is, at the very least, an equally important question is: ‘What does God think about us?’….More pointedly, what does God think about me?

Admittedly, there are a few layers to how we could answer that. King David, in Psalm 139:14, declares that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” This is most positive! But, since the Fall, there has been a highly negative side to our natural state. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord explains that our heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9). And, through Isaiah we are told that our best deeds are tainted like filthy garments (Isa. 64:6). The apostle Paul, referencing the Psalms, repeats the declaration that none of us, in our natural state, are “good” in God’s eyes (Rom. 3:10-12). We’re not even looking for God, is what we’re told.

The report card then, is not stellar. Perhaps this is why we don’t often ask, ‘What does God think of me?’ Could it be that we are fearful of the answer?

I concede that this is bad news…dreadful news. I’m regret to say that this is just a sampling of how the biblical text answers the question posed in this post.  Quite simply, our natural tendencies, our default settings position us in a predicament that is nothing short of dire.

I get that this is negative stuff. But I’m delighted to report that there is a way out of this predicament. And the way is not self-sufficiency. The way is not trying harder. The way to God’s favour is outside of us. Thankfully, God does not relish being at odds with His creation (Eze. 33:11), and so He bridges the gulf by giving us another’s righteousness (see Romans 3:20-26).

This righteousness, first of all, changes our standing before God and, subsequently, the way He thinks of us. But, this is not God’s ‘end game’. God seeks to do much more than ‘clean us up’ and make us presentable. Amazingly, God wants us to represent Him. He wants to demonstrate His love and compassion through us.

I may not like how the story begins (with my sin), but I cherish how the story ends when I embrace the kind of life that God offers. And, I’m so thankful that, when applied rightly, the love of God becomes a blessing to not only me, but also to those I interact with on a day-to-day basis. This past Sunday, I addressed this theme at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well in a message, entitled ‘You’re Not Good Enough’. What begins with a negative declaration ends with a declaration of hope and expectation. I invite you to listen. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Getting The Word Out – Part II

Over the last month the team leaders of The Well have been giving some thought to how we might better promote this new initiative. 

The consensus is that there is no better approach than to personally invite your friends, co-workers, neighbours, family members, etc. (see ‘Who Will You Invite?‘)

However, we also believe that we can improve upon how we represent The Well to your friends prior to their first visit. To this end, the website for The Well is being revamped, and already has a new look. Jessica Clarke has photographed The Well and has furnished us with some awesome new pics.  Tomorrow I meet with Cliff Cline for the purpose of working on (finishing?) a promo video for The Well which we can upload to our facebook groupYouTube, this blog, and the website. Hopefully it won’t be long before we add a page for [Quench] (our children’s program), as well as an ‘About Us’ page.

We have 9 Sundays ‘under our belt’ and none have disappointed. The musical leadership, shared between Cliff Cline, Kie Naidoo, & Sarah Walker has been A++! The hugely positive feedback we have received from our attendees affirms this.

Did I mention how good the coffee tastes? Did I mention the baked goods?

Our hosts have been awesome; they set the tone for everything that follows. The atmosphere/spirit of the gathering is constantly being described as ‘electric’. Words are not adequate to explain what is being experienced, but suffice to say that God’s powerful presence is at the centre of what’s positive about The Well.

I hope you get a chance to join us one Sunday. Bring a friend. You won’t be disappointed!